My experience with Wasteland 2 is best summarized as a reverse bell curve of irritation, where the beginning and end of my playthrough were plagued by an unbelievable amount of frustration that was only offset by a legitimately entertaining middle section that introduced several unique factions and scenarios. Even taking that middle section into consideration, however, I found the game as a whole incredibly underwhelming. Yes, it’s a love letter to old-school design, but it seems to have forgotten that some of the mechanics found in older games are best left in the past. As a result, said love letter too often comes across like that of a stalker ex-boyfriend, constantly wanting to dredge up a shared nostalgic past instead of contributing anything new and exciting to the equation.
A tale of killer robots
The original Wasteland was the inspiration behind Fallout, and the parallels story-wise are obvious early on. In Fallout, there are a bunch of mutants who suddenly come out of nowhere and who have to be dealt with. In the original Wasteland, as in the sequel, you’re dealing with an almost identical plot involving robots instead of mutants. I really wouldn’t call the story a strong suit of either series (though I really like the first Fallout’s story as a whole), but Wasteland 2 certainly has its high points. All of the familiar dystopian staples are here: raiders taking over towns, moral grayness caused by the unforgiving circumstances of the post-apocalyptic world, and charismatic leaders leading their factions against one another. As a group of new members of the Desert Rangers—basically the self-styled policemen of the post-apocalypse—it’s your job to take care of all of this.
Nuns with guns
In Wasteland 2, the factions you deal with range from a religious cult of gun-wielding priests and nuns who believe that the nuclear war that destroyed the world was the rapture to a group that claims to want to transcend humanity by melding man and machine into one. There are also the more entertaining and quirky groups like the Mannerites, who believe that proper etiquette is important enough to kill for. While the overall story is a bit on the disappointing side, I found that delving into the philosophies and eccentricities of the various factions and characters was the high point of the game. Wasteland 2 has a great sense of humor.
In addition to the four-person team you’re able to create right off the bat, you can also recruit pre-made companions who travel with you over the course of the story, allowing you to create parties of up to seven characters. Some of these characters are integrated well into the story and provide colorful commentary, while others seem to tag along for the ride for little to no reason whatsoever. Companions, then, are incredibly uneven, but the game’s similarly uneven difficulty ensures that you’ll be grateful for the extra firepower nevertheless.
Imagine someone put Fallout and XCOM in a blender together. That’s what this game’s combat is like. You have action points used for moving and attacking, two slots for weapons, a “headshot” mode that doubles damage while reducing accuracy and eliminating your chance of scoring a critical hit, and your chance to hit enemies represented in a percentage like in Fallout. There’s also an XCOM-esque cover system that increases your evasion to enemy attacks and chance to hit enemies with your weapons when behind cover. All in all, however, the game’s combat isn’t very impressive or innovative; despite being quite a bit faster than the combat in early Fallout entries, having up to seven controllable characters and similarly large groups of enemies ensures that it’s every bit as tedious and time-consuming. Even worse, you’re not able to save in combat like in the Fallout games, so doing something stupid and screwing up means having to repeat the entire fight all over again.
The uneven difficulty is awful
Wasteland 2 has quite possibly the most unbalanced difficulty I’ve ever seen in a game. You start the game ammo-starved and completely incapable of hitting your targets (usually having something like a 60% chance to hit if you’re lucky), and compounding the frustration of the game’s early combat is the early weaponry. Not only is your early equipment inaccurate, but it’s also prone to jamming. In fact, “prone to jamming” may be the understatement of the year; while weapon jamming is an annoyance throughout the entire game, the beginning in particular seems to consist almost entirely of kiting around enemies because your weapons have all jammed. Even worse, both unjamming weapons and reloading ammo require a sickeningly large number of action points, meaning you’ll often be forced to choose between unjamming your weapon and avoiding taking damage. Both are critical to success early in the game, so you’re too often forced to reload because fortune didn’t favor you. Combat in the early stages of the game, then, is largely luck-dependent rather than relying on skill and planning.
Midway through the game, however, you become an unstoppable juggernaut, especially if any of your characters are proficient with sniper rifles or assault rifles. Those two weapons are unbelievably overpowered compared to the pitiful damage other weapons do, but even squads that don’t rely on them will find themselves easily blowing through groups of enemies. Despite this, every so often you’ll come across enemies that kill every last member of your group without any trouble whatsoever. These random spikes in difficulty come out of nowhere and make the game feel incredibly inconsistent. Rather than a consistent rise in the challenge combat poses, Wasteland 2 instead begins maddeningly tough, drops off to become easy beyond words, then switches between the two unpredictably for no obvious reason. As a result, you’ll mow through an entire building of enemies without having to heal any of your characters, only to be ambushed and slaughtered wholesale five minutes later. It comes across as surprisingly amateurish.
Stats and skills
When creating your characters before starting the game, you’re able to pump points into your primary stats (strength, intelligence, luck, and others that almost directly correlate to the stats in Fallout’s SPECIAL system) and skills. Skills are also reminiscent of Fallout, encompassing a character’s proficiency with certain weapons as well as non-combat skills such as the ability to kick down doors, pick locks, and talk your way out of problems. These skills cost more points to raise the more you put into them, to the point where some skills cost something like 16 points to move from level 9 to level 10 (the max) in. Now, each time you level up, your intelligence dictates the number of points you gain to put into these skills. This makes intelligence the single most important stat you can put points into. Why, you ask?
Because many skills are completely redundant. For example, computer science and alarm disarming being different skills is annoying. Lockpicking and safecracking being different skills is also an annoyance. Those are hardly the only examples of superfluous-seeming skills that only serve to spread your points out, either. Surgeon and field medic are different skills, and even mechanical repair and toaster repair are different skills. Not bad enough? How about the fact that there are three different types of “talking” skills that merely cover different attitudes? There’s no reason for this any more than there’d be a call for certain medic skills that focus on a single appendage. “Oh, I can’t help you—I’m a left arm specialist and you’re clearly dying from a bullet wound in your stomach. Sorry!”
What makes this so much more irritating is the relationship between your skill values and your ability to successfully use non-combat skills without something horrible happening. If you spread your points out equally, being a jack-of-all-trades (or simply neglect to put enough points into your characters’ intelligence), you won’t be able to afford raising your skill values to their highest value, and this puts you in situations where you’re either unable to even attempt to use a skill, or limited by a ~20% chance to succeed and a ~35% chance to break whatever you’re using the skill on. This means save/loading like crazy, and it’s not fun. It just isn’t.
This was especially maddening when I decided to devote one of my characters solely to blunt weapons and door-kicking. A good plan, don’t you think? It wasn’t, as I quickly discovered when less than an hour in he was more likely to damage his leg than actually kick in the door. This was the beginning of the game and I had put three points, the maximum you’re able to afford in character creation, into door kicking. When you spend all of your points on one thing, it’s reasonable to expect them to actually be good at that thing in the beginning of the game.
Certain weapons are completely useless
That wasn’t my only mistake, though, because I had also decided that this character would use blunt weapons. This backfired as an early section of the game sent me against a huge number of enemies who explode when they die, doing area damage to anyone nearby. Seriously, who thought that this would be a good early-game area? I saw this character die again and again to explosions (when he’d even hit—his accuracy was atrocious, even when the enemy was right in front of him) before finally realizing that blunt weapons are completely worthless. They’re not the only ones, either, because energy weapons, brawling, and handguns are also pathetically weak compared to other weapons. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that poor design is to blame when each weapon type in your game isn’t equally viable.
Weird rules and combat things
Energy weapons do more damage against good armor. This is somehow a thing in Wasteland 2, and it means that you spend a lot of time saving up for good armor, only to ditch it in many encounters toward the end of the game. This is the dumbest design decision I’ve seen in a long, long time. Another weird combat phenomenon is that enemies have far more action points than you do, so they’ll run clear across the map and often manage to get a shot or two off at you afterward. This is patently unfair, stacking the deck against you by rendering cover meaningless in many encounters, and while I’m used to a brutal difficulty in turn-based games, this kind of thing is bound to turn off all but the most hardcore of old-school aficionado.
Miscellaneous bugs and issues
The game is also buggy. From being unable to drop heavy quest items when they cease to be useful anymore to characters refusing to attack (but the game taking away your AP anyway), I was constantly yelling at the game for something or another. Even when the bugs that break side quests and display the wrong ending slides weren’t responsible for that anger, though, something else was managing to drive me insane. For example, there’s a long fetch quest for kitty litter in the middle of the game that’s completely unnecessary. Then you have your constant need to refill your water canteens as you travel on the overworld map, a design decision so obviously tedious that the second overworld map does away with the mechanic entirely. You also have awesome non-controllable party members who don’t count against your seven-member limit, but their AI is so stupid that they run into dangerous situations and get themselves killed before you can help them.
It’s not pretty, but it’s hot
Let’s get something straight—the graphics in Wasteland 2 aren’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re decent. However, they ran my graphic card harder than just about any other game, taking my GPU temperature up to 80 degrees Celsius, higher than even graphically intensive games such as Witcher 2 and Remember Me (which I recently played at 1440p with lower temperatures).
The soundtrack is okay
I love Mark Morgan in an entirely platonic (but nonetheless creepy) way, but this isn’t his best work. Deep down, I was hoping that Wasteland 2 would sound like more than another post-apocalyptic game, but it disappointed in that regard. This is more akin to the first Fallout than anything memorable like Planescape: Torment’s soundtrack, and while the similarity between Wasteland and Fallout makes a similar type of soundtrack entirely fitting, it struck me as very been-there-done-that. The unusual music that plays city of Damonta, on the other hand, is the kind of thing I wish there was more of, the music there being fitting and memorable.
Here’s what you should do: